By Amy Bell
Libraries are some of the most complete and incredible tributes to human knowledge imaginable, and with their range of resources, they’re invaluable when it comes to studying. However, reading up on a topic of choice needn’t be done in a bland and boring building, as the following institutions demonstrate. And while it’s the books and facilities that make a library, being in lovely surroundings may provide inspiration and help you to work that little bit harder. Whether they feature sleek, eye-catching architecture or extravagant interiors, the 50 libraries on this list are the most beautiful in the world.
50. Macquarie University Library – Sydney, Australia
The library at Macquarie University in Northern Sydney, Australia has pioneering technology to match its cutting-edge design. It is home to the first Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS) in any college in the country; this uses robot cranes to pick up books and convey them to the front desk. For the building’s eye-catching look, architecture firm Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp, which has offices in Australia and England, took its cues from the surrounding landscape – in particular a eucalyptus forest that graces the campus. Flora also makes an appearance on the green roof, which incorporates planted areas and grass; meanwhile, wells are used to flood the bottom floors with daylight. The stunning building – which was constructed using recycled materials – opened its doors in 2011 and contains more than 1.8 million electronic and print items.
49. National Library of Brazil – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Approximately nine million items are contained in the National Library of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. Ranking seventh in size amongst all other libraries around the world, it features a 19th-century collection of tens of thousands of photographs that, due to their significance, are on the register of the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme. The fantastically ornate building has its origins in an earthquake that took place in Lisbon in 1755, which led to a lot of the collections contained within the Portuguese city’s Royal Library being transported all the way to Brazil. The South American facility was founded in 1810, but its current incarnation – which showcases elements of the neoclassical and Art Nouveau styles – was inaugurated exactly a century later.
48. UNAM Central Library – Mexico City, Mexico
The splendid Central Library is arguably the jewel in the crown of the Ciudad Universitaria campus at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City. Completed in 1952, the building – designed by Gustavo Saavedra and Juan Martínez de Velasco – holds approximately 400,000 books. However, it is perhaps best known for its exterior murals, which were crafted by Mexican architect and painter Juan O’Gorman and cover the ten-story building in a mosaic that recounts the history of the country. Perhaps surprisingly, none of the murals are painted; O’Gorman journeyed through Mexico to find the brightly colored stones of which they’re made.
47. Old Library, Trinity College Library Dublin – Dublin, Ireland
A place that holds the Book of Kells – the splendidly embellished Gospel volume that dates back to the early 9th century – is special just for that fact, but the Old Library at Trinity College Library Dublin would be a wonder regardless. Its Long Room contains 200,000 of the most aged books in the library’s collection. Originally completed around 1733 by Irish architect and engineer Thomas Burgh, the 213-foot-long chamber boasts carved, dark wooden features and a handsome, barrel-like ceiling. The marble busts of writers, philosophers and college backers that line the space are also a major attraction.
46. Peckham Library – London, U.K.
The London district of Peckham received a colorful new feature in 2000 with the arrival of its public library. The now-separated Anglo-German architectural practice Alsop and Störmer rose to the challenge of the structure’s brief, which called for “a thoroughly modern building that is ahead of its time” and which would give the area a “psychological boost.” The library has proven popular with Peckham residents, but its striking mix of primary-hued glass, copper, and steel weave apparently appealed to those in the know, too, as it was awarded the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize for architectural excellence in the same year it opened, with competition judges stating, “This is a building to make you smile: more architecture should do that.”
45. George Peabody Library, Johns Hopkins University – Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Even if students at Johns Hopkins University are struggling to cram for their midterms, at least they have a grand, spacious Greek Revival-style library in which to work – and its collection of 300,000 volumes, many from the 19th century, probably helps too. The building – finished in 1878 – was the work of local architect Edmund G. Lind, who created what has been termed a “cathedral of books” for the college. The library’s atrium rises 61 feet into the air, peaking with a latticed skylight at the top, while columns featuring gold scalloping together with tiered, cast-iron balconies add highly attractive decorative embellishments.
44. Library of Birmingham – Birmingham, U.K.
The new Library of Birmingham is said to be not only Britain’s biggest public library, but also the largest regional facility of its kind in the whole of Europe. Its dazzling silver, glass and gold exterior features interlocking metal rings and was designed by Dutch architects Mecanoo to pay tribute to the English city’s Jewelry Quarter. The postmodern-style replacement for the Birmingham Central Library was opened in 2013 and has a wealth of resources within its walls, including adult and kids’ libraries, music collections, a Shakespeare Memorial Room, and even a health facility. Gardens crown the roof, while the changing seasons bring variations in the shadows and reflections inside.
43. Royal Portuguese Reading Room – Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Studying can be done in considerable style at the Royal Portuguese Reading Room in Rio de Janeiro. With its gorgeous multicolored skylight and lovely balustrades, the richly decorated Neo-Manueline interior would be a delight to experience even if it didn’t hold the biggest and most valuable collection of Portuguese literature outside of Portugal itself. There are over 350,000 volumes within the library, and included in its collection are rare books from centuries past. The facility was finished in 1887, and one of its focal points is the Altar da Pátria, which is a stunning masterpiece made from marble, ivory and silver commemorating the Portuguese Discoveries that took place during the 1400s and 1500s.
42. Brandenburg University of Technology Library – Cottbus, Germany
Herzog & de Meuron achieved international recognition with their famed design for the Tate Modern in London, and the Swiss firm excelled again with the conception of the library at Brandenburg University of Technology in Cottbus, Germany. Rather fittingly for a building that houses many words, its skin is covered with myriad lettering in various alphabets and languages. Inside, it’s considerably more vibrant, with storage spaces, ceilings and shelves that are almost kaleidoscopic in their hues. The structure, which was completed in 2004, stands at just under 105 feet in height and features seven levels above ground plus two below.
41. Austrian National Library – Vienna, Austria
The Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria was once the residence of emperors and kings, but today, in addition to being the official home of the country’s president, it plays host to an amazing 7.4 million items in the Austrian National Library. The original royal collection found a permanent abode in the palace when the Court Library was constructed between the years 1723 and 1735, first under the direction of architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, and with the building work later overseen by his son Johann Emanuel Fischer von Erlach. One of the Austrian National Library’s most jaw-dropping features is the huge fresco on the ceiling, which was created by painter Daniel Gran. The dome is also decorated with statues by sculptor Paul Strudel that pay tribute to the Habsburg rulers.
40. Vennesla Library and Culture House – Vennesla, Norway
Situated in the municipality of Vennesla in Norway, the sleek-looking structure pictured above houses not only a public library, but also meeting spaces, administrative areas and a cafeteria. It was conceived by Norwegian firm Helen & Hard, which employed an innovative “rib” configuration in the design of the library itself. Twenty-seven ribs, made from timber and plywood, are incorporated into the facility, with each one featuring built-in shelves and reading nooks. What’s more, the finished article is not just beautiful but eco-conscious, too, with sustainable elements that include vertical sun shading and the admission of plenty of daylight. Finished in 2011, the library was honored the following year with the country’s Statens Byggeskikkpris award for the best national building.
39. Clementinum National Library – Prague, Czech Republic
The Clementinum has been described as “the Baroque pearl of Prague,” and this is surely due at least in part to the richly adorned interior of its library, with its touches of gold and stunning spiral pillars. The facility, which was built in 1722, now serves as the National Library of the Czech Republic and is graced with a ceiling adornment by Jan Hiebl that celebrates ancient learning and wisdom. Meanwhile, some of the tomes contained within date all the way back to the Jesuit era. The historic complex, which was originally a major Jesuit college, was included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme in 2005.
38. University of Aberdeen Library – Aberdeen, U.K.
The bold, zebra-like stripes that adorn the University of Aberdeen’s library building are the work of international Danish architecture firm schmidt hammer lassen. One of its principals, Morten Schmidt, has poetically said of its unique exterior, “[It] will shimmer during the day and glows softly at night,” and he described it as a “beacon” for the Scottish city. This innovative building won a National Award from the Royal Institute of British Architects in 2013, as well as concurrent recognition from the World Architecture Festival, where it made the shortlist in the Civic and Community division. It became the first major construction to be completed in Aberdeen for 25 years and opened to students and staff in 2011.
37. National Library of France – Paris, France
The National Library of France has mushroomed in recent years, thanks to an expansion and partial move to newly completed premises in 1996. However, the origins of the institution – which now contains an astonishing 30 million items – date back to the 14th century and the royal library established at the Louvre by King Charles V. The library relocated to its still operating Rue de Richelieu site in 1868, with major design work carried out by French architects Henri Labrouste and, following his death, Jean-Louis Pascal. Here, the circular reading rooms are elegance itself, with the Salle de Travail featuring nine domes sitting on columns said to echo Ottoman architecture. There are more than just books to be found there, too: the chess set of the 9th-century King Charlemagne is one of the library’s more unique pieces.
36. Kanazawa Umimirai Library – Kanazawa, Japan
Japanese architecture firm Coelacanth K&H designed a library that is said to bring the outdoors indoors through its open feel and sylvan sensibility. The Kanazawa Umimirai Library building, which was completed in 2011, is enclosed by a white “punching wall.” The wall is replete with 6,000 little holes that let in a soothing light and is also designed to help distribute seismic force in case of earthquakes. Floor heating and cooling has been incorporated for the public’s comfort, while the roof’s openings provide natural aeration to help make it more pleasant in the summertime. The awesome-looking structure was honored with the Chubu Architecture Award in 2012.
35. University of California San Diego Geisel Library – San Diego, California, USA
The Geisel Library at the University of California San Diego takes its name from the celebrated writer Theodor Seuss Geisel – better known as Dr. Seuss – and his wife Audrey. The literary pair was honored in this way for contributions to the library and their commitment to bettering literacy. The eight-story, 110-foot structure is an arresting example of the brutalist style and was designed towards the end of the 1960s by notable future-focused American architect William Pereira. Urban legends related to the building abound, one of which states that the library is sinking as a result of its contents, although this has been categorically denied by the facility’s staff.
34. Iowa State Capitol Law Library – Des Moines, Iowa
Iowa’s State Capitol Law Library at Des Moines is one beautiful building in which we wouldn’t mind getting lost. The splendid space, which was fashioned in the Renaissance style in the 1880s, connects its five levels with elaborately detailed cast-iron spiral stairs and features interiors in chestnut and ash woods. Its marble flooring and walls, chandeliers, periodicals, case book materials and stacks of bookcases – through which one can browse the library’s collection of treatises – collectively create an atmosphere of learned opulence. American architects John C. Cochrane and Alfred H. Piquenard were responsible for its design as well as that of the rest of the State Capitol.
33. Library of Parliament – Ottawa, Canada
Since 1876, The Parliament of Canada has had a suitably grand building in which to store its resources. The attractive, elaborate Victorian High Gothic structure of Ottawa’s Library of Parliament owes its design to Canadian architects Chilion Jones and Thomas Fuller. Its multicolored appearance – referred to as structural polychromy – is down to a mix of materials, including green and purple bands of slate and red Potsdam sandstone. The three-tiered roof crowned with a cupola adds to the majestic effect; and so too do the stone carvings in friezes and floral motifs on the exterior, as well as the 16 flying buttresses.
32. Los Angeles Public Library – Los Angeles, California
The interior of the Los Angeles Public Library is truly awe-inspiring, thanks in no small part to Dean Cornwell’s colorful lobby mural, which represents the history of California in four sections and was completed in the early 1930s. The original building, opened in 1926, was designed by distinguished Neo-Gothic architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, who chose to imbue the work with ancient Egyptian-influenced elements such as the mosaic pyramid at the top along with Mediterranean Revival-style features. However, a renovation and expansion in the late 1980s and early 1990s also gave it a Modernist/Beaux-Arts look.
31. Vancouver Public Library – Vancouver, Canada
The seven-story Vancouver Public Library brings a little bit of Rome into the Canadian city, as it bears more than a passing likeness to the famous Colosseum. The structure – completed in 1995 – was built out of precast concrete in a reddish, sandstone-like hue, and the Italian theme continues with its surroundings, which comprise a piazza area around the building. International firm Safdie Architects and local practice DA Architects can take credit for the attention-grabbing design, as well as that of the Federal Office Tower and commercial resources that, along with the Public Library, make up Library Square in Vancouver.
30. Bodleian Library – Oxford, U.K.
The English city of Oxford isn’t short of attractive buildings, but arguably one of its most appealing is the Radcliffe Camera, which initially played host to the Radcliffe Science Library but would later come to operate as a reading room for the Bodleian Library, one of the oldest of its kind in the whole of Europe. The building is an exceptional piece of 18th-century architecture that was named for its benefactor, medic John Radcliffe, and was opened over 250 years ago in 1749. Influential British architect James Gibbs was responsible for its design, which follows the English Palladian style. The structure itself is the oldest example of a circular library in the country.
29. Abbey Library of Saint Gall – St. Gallen, Switzerland
Its wide-ranging collection of manuscripts – some of which date back to the 8th century – helps make the facility at the Abbey of Saint Gall in St. Gallen, Switzerland one of the most significant monastic libraries on the planet. Along with the rest of the abbey, it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for being “a perfect example of a great Carolingian monastery.” With its areas of magnificently carved wood, paint and stucco, Austrian architect Peter Thumb’s opulent Rococo hall is said to be Switzerland’s superlative example of Baroque design. All of this makes visiting to peruse any of its 160,000-plus volumes a pleasure.
28. Cerritos Millennium Library – Cerritos, California, USA
Cerritos’ Millennium Library is pioneering in more than one way. As well as being the USA’s first building to be covered with titanium paneling, it has also been termed the first “Experience Library,” because the facility puts a spotlight on fascinating themed areas, stunning art and interesting architecture. There is a children’s library that incorporates a marine aquarium with coral and sharks, while for the more grown-up scholar, the Old World Reading Room is inspired by 19th-century European design and is outfitted with chandeliers and a fireplace. Californian architects Charles Walton Associates were responsible for the sleek and shining addition to the city, and the building was finished in 2002.
27. Harold Washington Library Center – Chicago, Illinois
While it may be a bit of an eye-catcher, the giant, ten-story public Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago was sympathetically designed by local architects Hammond, Beeby and Babka – now HBRA Architects – to echo the sensibility of other buildings in the city, like the 19th-century Rookery. The local firm combined Beaux-Arts features such as the building’s granite bottom and attractive red brick, although its decorative elements are more Mannerist in style. The library itself was completed in 1991, but two years later it was given another arresting feature through its Kent Bloomer-designed aluminum acroteria – figures of wise owls and seed pods, the latter a nod to the Midwest’s agricultural tradition.
26. University of Coimbra General Library – Coimbra, Portugal
Gilded finishes are plentiful in the beautiful, Baroque Joanina Library, which is part of the University of Coimbra General Library in Coimbra, Portugal and was completed in 1728. Its three rooms – which contain 70,000 older volumes stacked over two stories – are divided by elaborate archways, while the hard oak used for the shelving inside should keep it free from insect infestation. Other animal residents seem to be assisting with this potential problem, too: a camp of bats roosting inside the walls emerges at night to gobble up insects that might be prone to gorging on the volumes. And elsewhere, heavy walls and doors made of teak help to keep heat and humidity to a minimum, further preserving the cherished library’s treasures.
25. Fisher Fine Arts Library, University of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Victorian-era American architect Frank Furness was responsible for the design of the University of Pennsylvania’s stunning Fisher Fine Arts Library, which was completed in 1890 and was built in the Venetian Gothic style. Its smart red brick exterior recalls the look of Philadelphia factories of the period. Meanwhile, a touch of literary flair is added through the Shakespeare inscriptions in the windows, which were selected by Furness’ brother, a distinguished scholar of the Bard’s work. The building has received praise from none other than acclaimed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who described it as “the work of an artist.” It is now a National Historic Landmark.
24. Strahov Monastery Library – Prague, Czech Republic
Anyone who wishes to consult the Bible when in Prague should head to the Strahov Monastery. Its magnificent Theological Hall is home to thousands of editions of the holy book. Moreover, the library hall’s glorious stuccowork makes the space a real head-turner. It was completed in 1679, with the nearby Philosophical Hall – which was constructed to house books from the Louka Convent in South Moravia – joining it around a hundred years later. After communists seized the abbey in 1950, it became the Memorial to National Literature, although the library, along with other parts of the complex, was renewed and restored following the Velvet Revolution.
23. Braunschweig University of Art Library – Braunschweig, Germany
The stunning, glass-fronted cube that houses the Braunschweig University of Art’s library shows what can be done with a bit of recycling and a lot of ingenuity. Completed in 2002, the structure took materials from the Mexican pavilion at the Expo 2000 World’s Fair, which was staged in the German city of Hanover. The pavilion’s creator, AIA Gold Medal-winning Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta, worked in conjunction with the Braunschweig branch of KSP Engel & Zimmermann (now KSP Jürgen Engel) to design the building, which also contains a red cube inside – tilted in relation to the exterior sheath – that accommodates its books.
22. Philological Library, Free University of Berlin – Berlin, Germany
The Faculty of Philology library at Berlin’s Free University is arguably at its most attractive by night, when interior lighting glows through its transparent partitions to create a checkerboard effect. This four-story structure is the brainchild of world-famous global firm Foster + Partners. The architects’ bulbous, aluminum and glazed-panel creation encourages light-imbued spaces – ideal for study – through the sinuous layout of its floors, which subside or expand in relation to the area above. The distinctive shape of the library, which was completed in 2005, has inspired its nickname: apparently, some call it “the Berlin brain.”
21. Edith Cowan University Library and Resources Building – Joondalup, Australia
The striking Library and Resources Building at Western Australia’s Edith Cowan University was intended to be a home away from home. Its architects, Perth-based Jones Coulter Young, have explained the premise of the design, saying, “Everyone studies differently, and if the most comfortable way to study is at home with a laptop, a coffee, a friend and a snack, why shouldn’t that be possible here?” To this end, the building – completed in 2006 – contains a coffee shop and what the designers term a “research and learning lounge,” complete with beanbags and ottomans. Elsewhere, the white and yellow louvers of the exterior not only contribute to the library’s unique aesthetic, but also in part act as a sunscreen.
20. Kansas City Central Library – Kansas City, Missouri
The enormous bookshelf that makes up part of the Kansas City Central Library was the brainchild of architects CDFM2 – now national firm 360 Architecture. The feature acts as a major focal point of the building as well as providing a big clue as to what’s inside. Named the “Community Bookshelf,” it skirts the south side of the library’s parking lot, and its 22 titles – constructed from signboard mylar and standing some 25 feet tall – were suggested by avid local bookworms. Two of its volumes even offer a nod to the area’s history. The Community Bookshelf was completed in 2004, the same year the Central Library found its current home.
19. St. Florian Monastery Library – Sankt Florian, Austria
Gorgeous aesthetics – including a breathtaking ceiling fresco – and towering stacks of books make entering the main library hall at St. Florian Monastery in Sankt Florian, Austria a treat for any bibliophile, or indeed anyone who appreciates attractive Baroque architecture. Austrian architects Jakob Prandtauer and Johann Gotthard Hayberger were responsible for the design of the library, which was completed in 1750. A significant portion of its 150,000-volume collection dates back to before the 19th century. And many of the titles inside are even older than the facility that houses them, with almost 1,000 “incunables” – items printed in Europe prior to 1501. Although the library is open to the public, given the antiquity of much of its contents, it’s understandable that it is a reference-only facility.
18. Halmstad City Library – Halmstad, Sweden
Nature was a key inspiration for the sleek City Library in Halmstad, Sweden, as Copenhagen-based architects schmidt hammer lassen designed what is fundamentally a unique open area that interacts with the surrounding foliage. Completed in 2006, its columns are intended to visually communicate with the nearby trees, with the atrium curving around a sizable chestnut on the site. The library’s transparent glass and concrete façade allows visitors a glimpse at its facilities, which include a café and exhibition space. Meanwhile, its grass roof adds to the verdure but also acts as eco-friendly insulation while minimizing drainage needs.
17. Stuttgart City Library – Stuttgart, Germany
Köln, Germany-based Yi Architects’ design for Stuttgart’s City Library is an awe-inspiring exercise in minimalism. What it lacks in gilded pillars and intricate ceiling frescos, it more than makes up for with gleaming, pristine surfaces and staircases – as well as airy, light spaces. It harks back to days gone by with a design that takes its influence from the Pantheon in Rome. And the bright white “heart” of the building – a multi-floor meeting area – has a linearity that harmonizes with the grid effect created by the many apertures in the cubic exterior. The library was opened to the public in 2011.
16. Tama Art University Library – Tokyo, Japan
In 2007 the Tokyo architecture world was privy to a spectacular new addition in the form of the library for Tama Art University, designed by local architects Toyo Ito & Associates. Its signature concrete and steel arches were haphazardly positioned but are there for good reason: in addition to providing the structure with its arresting appearance, they aim to give the sense that the slanted floor and front garden continue right into the building. Students can browse books or study beneath the arches, enjoy music or movies in the “temporary theater,” and even take shelter and read magazines while waiting for the bus that stops outside.
15. Vasconcelos Library – Mexico City, Mexico
Inaugurated in 2006, Mexico City’s Vasconcelos Library was designed by local architect Alberto Kalach in part to “[reorganize] available human knowledge” – and the result is astounding. Stacks of stark shelving grace the 409,000-square-foot “megalibrary,” slicing it into neat sections, and what was once a desolate swath of the city has been transformed into a sleek temple of learning. As well as being integrated with a botanical garden, the facility acts as a showcase for the work of some of Mexico’s artists, among them Gabriel Orozco’s Ballena, which sits in the main lobby. The sculpture is made from a whale skeleton found on a reserve, and according to Orozco, it was inspired by the building itself.
14. James B. Hunt Jr. Library, North Carolina State University – Raleigh, North Carolina, USA
Oslo-based architectural firm Snohetta made its mark in Raleigh in early 2013 with the opening of North Carolina State University’s James B. Hunt Jr. Library. The designers teamed up with local architects Pearce Brinkley Cease & Lee (now merged with Clark Nexsen) to develop the glimmering wonder, which is arguably as eco-minded as it is attractive. Thirty-one percent of the materials used in the library’s construction are recycled in origin, lighting is natural or solar energy based, and the majority of the timber was taken from sustainable forests. Both the facility’s green features and design have wowed industry insiders, and the striking structure was honored with an American Institute of Architects/American Library Association Library Building Award in 2013.
13. State Library of New South Wales – Sydney, Australia
The public State Library of New South Wales holds the honor of being the oldest institution of its kind in Australia. It was originally established as the Australian Subscription Library in 1826, but it wasn’t until 1942 that its permanent home was ready. Designed in a Classical style by Sydney architect Walter Liberty Vernon and completed in 1910, the magnificent sandstone Mitchell Wing is one of the architectural highlights. Its main reading room has tall bookshelves around its perimeter and skylights that flood the space in light. The library also acts as a cultural pinnacle, for it houses an exceptional array of Australiana donated to New South Wales’ citizens by the facility’s namesake, collector David Scott Mitchell.
12. Bibliotheca Alexandrina – Alexandra, Egypt
While the fabled Royal Library of Alexandria may have been destroyed hundreds of years ago, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, inaugurated in 2002, aims to rekindle some of its scholarly spirit. Norwegian architects Snohetta’s cascading 11-level design gives the library room for eight million books, as well as four museums, the same number of art galleries, and even a planetarium. The gray Aswan granite walls are etched with 120 different scripts to pay tribute to the richness of human language, while the reading room is situated under a stunning glass roof – which is angled towards the ocean and measures almost 525 feet across.
11. Seattle Central Library – Seattle, Washington, USA
Seattle Central Library’s distinctive and gleaming geometric design ensures that it stands out in the Pacific Northwestern city. Architect Rem Koolhaas is one of the names attached to its design. Koolhaas’ Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) and local firm LMN Architects sought to envelop the 11-story building with “a continuous layer of transparency,” which was orchestrated using a skin of glass and metal. The finished article houses an estimated 1.45 million tomes and other items, as well as more than 400 computers available for public usage. The building, which opened in 2004, won praise from The New Yorker, which declared it “exhilarating,” and was also included on the American Institute of Architects’ list of America’s 150 favorite structures back in 2007.
10. Mafra National Palace Library – Mafra, Portugal
The library at Portugal’s Mafra National Palace, as well as the rest of the amazing Baroque/Neoclassical complex, might never have existed – as King John V promised only to build it if his wife bore him children. Fortunately, she did and, true to the king’s word, Mafra National Palace was completed by 1730. More than 35,000 leather-bound volumes – some over 500 years old – line the walls of the lovely Rococo library, which was designed by Portuguese architect Manuel Caetano de Sousa. Interesting, these tomes are preserved by bats, which are let out at night to feed on insects that might put the library’s treasures in jeopardy.
9. Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, University of Chicago – Chicago, Illinois, USA
The University of Chicago’s Joe and Rika Mansueto Library has been given the nickname “The Egg,” owing in part to its distinctive oval shape. Local architectural firm Murphy/Jahn came up with an innovative solution to fitting the library into an already crowded campus: it plunges 55 feet underground. There’s space for 3.5 million volumes inside the library, with one million of them contained in metal bins and archival racks as part of the facility’s state-of-the-art automated retrieval system. Meanwhile, thanks to the domed transparent glass roof, light streams through to the reading room, yet solar heat and excessive UV rays are kept largely at bay.
8. Melk Abbey Library – Melk, Austria
The library at Melk Abbey in Austria was paid tribute to by Umberto Eco in the author’s famous murder mystery novel The Name of the Rose, and given the immense beauty of the place, it’s perhaps easy to see how it could have inspired such an honor. Chief among its prettiest features is the ornate, richly colored ceiling fresco by Austrian painter Paul Troger that represents Faith. Elsewhere, wooden sculptures symbolize the tetrad of faculties, Philosophy, Jurisprudence, Theology and Medicine. Approximately 90,000 volumes are contained within the lovely-looking facility, not to mention many medieval manuscripts and 850 incunables, making it historically important as well.
7. National Library of Sejong City – Sejong City, South Korea
International firm S.A.M.O.O. Architects & Engineers designed the swooping façade of the National Library of Sejong City to evoke a book page that has been turned over. Its designers dub the four-story structure with room for over three million books an “e-brary,” to reflect its mix of digital and analog facilities. Yet while inside it’s packed with conference and seminar spaces, a dining area and masses of information, its exterior hasn’t been neglected and features sculptures, trees and a book-themed park. The innovative library opened its doors in late 2013.
6. Handelingenkamer – The Hague, The Netherlands
The Handelingenkamer library may belong to the Dutch Parliament, but its eye-catching Renaissance design – courtesy of government building architect C.H. Peters – was actually creatively influenced by the aesthetics of China. This can be seen in its red, green and gold color scheme as well as the dragonheads dotting the walls and the shapes formed by the ironwork. The library’s distinctive spiral staircase is an attractive way to access the three upper levels of books. Meanwhile, the leaded glass dome roof imbues the interior with natural light and helps ensure that whichever of the tens of thousands of books visitors peruse, they can see and read it with ease during the day.
5. Monastery of San Francisco Library – Lima, Peru
The Monastery of San Francisco in Lima adds a welcome dash of brightness and beauty to the Peruvian capital city. The monastery was finished in 1774, and although it was significantly damaged in an earthquake that struck in 1970, it remains an eye-catching instance of Spanish Baroque architecture, with an entrance carved of granite that has gone on to impact the design of other holy buildings. Around 25,000 texts of some vintage can be found in the famous library here, including a Bible that dates back to around 1571 and a copy of the earliest Spanish dictionary issued by the Royal Spanish Academy.
4. Wiblinglen Abbey Library – Ulm, Germany
If there’s anything to be taken from this list, it’s that if you want to find a truly stunning library, a visit to a monastery probably won’t disappoint. Even amid some stiff competition, the facility in the north wing at Germany’s Wiblingen Abbey is perhaps one of the most spellbinding of its kind in the world. Franz Martin Kühn’s gorgeous ceiling paintings top a brightly colored, ornately decorated space that was designed by Christian Wiedemann and is deservedly said to be renowned throughout southern Germany for its Rococo style. It was completed in 1744.
3. Mediatheque Sandro Penna – Perugia, Italy
A glance at the Mediatheque Sandro Penna may lead one to believe that an alien craft has crash-landed in the Italian city of Perugia. However, this space-age building, completed in 2004, is actually the work of Milan-based architects Studio Italo Rota. Its pink glass exterior glows at night, and its namesake – the Perugia-born poet Sandro Penna – is given a tribute through excerpts of his writings that cover the see-through panels of the façade at the entrance. Inside, there’s also a touch of color courtesy of furnishings in the children’s area and couches, while sound insulation helps create an environment perfect for reading and study.
2. Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology Library – Galway, Ireland
Dublin architects de Blacam & Meagher used a progressive technique to design the attention-grabbing building that houses the library at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in western Ireland, as the dynamic thermal modeling technology employed in its development was still in its infancy at the time. The elaborate sails on the exterior aren’t just aesthetically pleasing, but also serve a useful purpose, since they let in daylight while shielding the interior from too much sunshine. This reduces the need for mechanized climate control systems, cutting expenses and making the library – which contains 600 reader spaces – more eco friendly.
1. Admont Abbey Library – Admont, Austria
Situated on the Enns River in southeast Austria, the library of Admont Abbey, constructed in 1776, is breathtaking in its beauty. Baroque architect Joseph Hueber was tasked with developing the design for the dazzling hall. Resplendent in gold and white hues, the library is crowned with seven cupolas whose ceiling space is adorned by Bartolomeo Altomonte’s frescos representing different phases of human knowledge. It is also noteworthy for Joseph Stammel’s “Four Last Things” sculptures, which bring to life depictions of death, heaven, hell and the Last Judgment. Around 70,000 of the monastery’s approximately 200,000 volumes are stored here, and it is the largest library of its kind in the world.